Last weekend my wife and I drove our 1999 Ford Explorer to a local Honda dealer and drove away in a 2009 Honda Fit, thanks to the Cars Allowance Rebate System, a.k.a the "Cash for Clunkers" program. The program gives people rebates on purchases of new fuel-efficient cars when they trade in old gas guzzlers. Basically, the government gave us $4,500 to get rid of this...
(But picture it with 200,000 miles on it, the front bumper falling off, and no A/C)
and buy this...
I have to say it's pretty cool driving the same distances around town on half the gas it took before.
A couple of days ago the Senate voted to extend the program with $2 billion more in funding, after the first billion was used up pretty quickly. Before the vote there were threats from some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, that they would filibuster the program into oblivion. But in the end there were 60 votes for and 37 against. Some Republicans criticized the government "meddling" unnecessarily in the economy and asked why the auto industry should get a stimulus when other industries don't. But they ignored the main point of the program: fuel efficiency. According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the average "cash for clunkers" trade-in results in a fuel economy increase of 61%. It turns out "government meddling" can mean reducing our use of fossil fuels and improving our air quality.
Maybe that's why some Republicans were so annoyed with this program. It's another example of government (i.e. large-scale social cooperation) doing good work. People might get the wrong idea! If it can be done on a relatively small scale--a $3 billion program--then people might be more favorable to trying it on larger scales. The whole essence of the thing is counter to fend-for-yourself conservative philosophy.
In fact, there was a concerted effort by conservatives to spin this popular program in the opposite direction, to say, "See, cooperation can't do anything good here. Why should we try it elsewhere?" The Drudge Report's headline last week screamed, "CHAOS FOR CLUNKERS." (But the article it linked to simply described crowded showroom floors and excited dealers.) And Rep. John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of Representatives asked, "If they can't handle something as simple as this, how would we handle health care?"
I'm not sure what happened to the stiff Republican opposition when the vote actually came up? Where was John McCain's valiant filibuster? Maybe they took a look and saw how popular the program was and realized the only real constituency opposed to it were people like them who are ideologically opposed to government and social cooperation in almost any form. That's a pretty small group.
So, Mr. Boehner, if we can handle this--and by all accounts we have--then can we also get a national health insurance plan?